University Park, Pa. — Penn State alumnus John Villforth left a lasting imprint in the field of public health during a career that spanned more than four decades. Now he and his wife, Joanne, also a Penn Stater, will leave their mark on generations of students at the University by endowing a graduate scholarship in bioengineering with a $100,000 gift.
At the Villforths' request, first preference for the scholarship will go to students who have research interests in medical devices and associated areas.
John Villforth earned bachelor's and master's degrees in sanitary engineering (now environmental engineering) from Penn State in 1954 and 1956. He took basic civil engineering courses as well as biological sciences courses, a dual education continued during his graduate assistantship where he worked on the engineering aspects of a waste treatment project as part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant at Penn State.
Joanne Villforth earned a bachelor's degree in arts and letters in 1954. The couple met during their Penn State years and were married while John was a graduate student.
"The appreciation of the blending of engineering and biological sciences as a way of solving problems has been a strong influence in my career," John Villforth said. "Later in my experience at the Food and Drug Administration, I again saw the value of this relationship when FDA became involved in the science and regulation of medical device technologies. It seemed only natural for Joanne and I to want to motivate new graduate students in bioengineering through this scholarship."
He joined the U.S. Public Health Service's division of radiological health, where he eventually oversaw the implementation of the first comprehensive federal legislation to set and enforce safety standards for the use and control of radioactive materials.
Villforth directed the public health service's response to the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor incident in 1979 and served as technical adviser to the Russian government in dealing with the Chernobyl disaster. He also served as chief engineer of the public health service and attained the rank of rear admiral.
After leaving federal service, he headed the Food and Drug Law Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a neutral forum for critical examination of laws, regulations and policies relating to pharmaceuticals, medical devices and other health-care technologies, and foods.
"I am certain that Rear Admiral Villforth's numerous accomplishments will serve as inspiration to the holders of this scholarship," said Senior Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School Eva J. Pell. "We are extremely grateful to Joanne and John for their generosity in making this endowment possible, and for their commitment to helping Penn State attract graduate students of the highest academic caliber."
The University honored Villforth as an Alumni Fellow in 2002 and a Distinguished Alumnus in 2005, the highest recognition Penn State awards it graduates. Currently he serves as lead volunteer for the committee securing philanthropic support for research programs and the Graduate School as part of For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students, a University-wide fund-raising effort now in its leadership gifts phase.
The Department of Bioengineering in the College of Engineering serves as the focal point of engineering activities in the life sciences across the University. Bioengineering encompasses undergraduate studies at the University Park campus and multidisciplinary graduate studies at University Park and within the College of Medicine at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, including the Medical Center's newly formed Institute for Biomedical Engineering.
Endowed gifts provide perpetual funding. The University invests such gifts and uses a portion of the annual income for the purposes designated by the donor. Remaining income is returned to the principal to protect it from inflation and ensure future growth.